Football: Fortune smiling on Lee's sphere of influence

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MANCHESTER is not Milan and Francis Lee no Silvio Berlusconi. But the toilet paper tycoon-cum-City chairman and the media mogul who owns Europe's leading club appear to have more in common than a liking for the right wing.

Both are renowned for a hands-on approach to their investments, Berlusconi to the extent that he will shortly be running Italy itself. Lee, according to sources close to Maine Road, will not rest until he is running the team.

Time will prove the veracity or otherwise of such claims, although Rodney Marsh has hinted that Lee's influence is already all-pervasive. This implies that Brian Horton, Peter Swales' final appointment, is a puppet manager on borrowed time, which may have accounted for his defiant glow after City's first win in six matches.

If fate had not previously revealed its benign side to Horton, who has lost Coton, Quinn, Phelan and Flitcroft to injury, it certainly compensated against Villa. Fortune supposedly favours the brave, in which case Southampton face one of the Premiership's gutsiest teams in today's six- pointer at The Dell.

Villa had all the luck going, much as they did against Manchester's 'other' team at Wembley. This time it was exclusively bad. There were inevitable fears that their League Cup victory banquet may have doubled as an end-of-season dinner, yet for 35 minutes Villa's dominance was such that Shaun Teale was the only one of their back four not to threaten City's goal.

What happened next transformed the game and, possibly, Horton's future at City. First, Keith Curle brought down Tony Daley as he hared towards goal - a clear professional foul - only for the referee to wave play on rather than send off the home captain. Four minutes later, Peter Beagrie's free-kick took a significant deflection off Kevin Richardson and Villa were behind.

As they tried to take in the injustice of it all, Paul Walsh and Uwe Rosler headed home crosses by the outstanding Ian Brightwell. Bizarrely, Mark Bosnich had not made a single save at that point, while City, scoring three in the League for the first time since September, boasted a 100 per cent ratio of goal attempts to goals.

When Ron Atkinson was asked if he considered Curle's challenge a foul, the Villa manager replied pointedly: 'Do you mean after he mugged him?' Horton claimed he 'couldn't honestly tell' though he had to admit the breaks had gone City's way.

Once ahead, the apprehension drained away, with Walsh, prised from Portsmouth, and Rosler, on trial from Dynamo Dresden, developing an unlikely partnership. Beagrie has also enhanced the attacking options, as well as bringing his crowd-lifting double somersault from Everton.

The faithful, already voting with their feet with an early dash for a half-time cuppa before Villa's goal fell, will save their own cartwheels until survival is assured. Experience has taught them that fortune and City are fickle coalition partners.

Goals: Richardson (og 39) 1-0; Walsh (45) 2-0; Rosler (53) 3-0.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Dibble; Hill, Curle, Vonk, D Brightwell; Rocastle, I Brightwell, McMahon, Beagrie; Walsh, Rosler (Sheron, 84). Substitutes not used: Karl, Margetson (gk).

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Bosnich; Barrett, Ehiogu, Teale, Staunton; Daley, Richardson, Townsend, Parker (Yorke, 77); Fenton, Saunders. Substitutes not used: Cox, Spink (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).